The Formula for “Good” Ethnic Food

Photo originally uploaded by rheanna2 on Flickr.

I’m pretty sure that most people have heard of or subscribe to the theory that the way you can tell if an ethnic restaurant is authentic (and presumably good) is if the majority or preferably all of the customers in the restaurant are members of that ethnicity.

So using “Chinese” as our variable, the formula looks something like this:

Busy Chinese restaurant + Mostly Chinese customers = Good Chinese food.

But who’s to say that the Chinese people in that particular Chinese restaurant have good taste? Is every Chinese person an expert on good Chinese food? What if they’re Chinese with no sense of taste, and they just eat whatever is most convenient or cheap?

As a counterpoint, let’s say I’m in the ‘burbs, and I’m looking for a place to eat. The Applebee’s/TGI Fridays/Claim Jumper in town, which caters to an “American” palette, is packed and there’s a 30-minute wait. Can I make the assumption that the food must be good because there’s a lot of Americans in there?

For what it’s worth, I use the theory myself when judging an ethnic restaurant, but lately I’ve been questioning this practice from a purely logical persective. The fact is you’re never going to know if it’s good or not unless you actually sit down and eat and decide for yourself. Sure, the odds are against you if you’re expecting to find good Chinese food in South Dakota, but you never know until you try it.

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